Power of attorney
LegalZoom defines power of attorney (POA) as, “a document you can use to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf. The person you designate is called an ‘attorney-in-fact.’” There are three main elements for a valid POA: (1) the person signing the document (the principal) must be mentally competent and acting without undue pressure from anyone; (2) the document must contain the date of execution; and (3) the signature must be notarized or be witnessed by two unrelated adults. State laws vary, so see an attorney for advice.
There are several important reasons for having a POA. For one, if there is no designated agent, the state may step in and appoint a guardian, a decision over which the family will have no say. Also, it is critical to have a financial overseer if and when a senior’s mental health declines.
In practice, a POA is very flexible, suiting the needs of each individual family. It can be “special” or “limited,” meaning that authority is granted only for a set period of time or for a particular transaction. No other powers are given. Conversely, a durable power of attorney allows an agent to manage all the affairs of the principal for any length of time, although it does expire at the time of death. A springing POA goes into effect only when a specific, predetermined event occurs, i.e., the principal becomes incapacitated. It can be durable or limited. Also, the agent can be granted as many or as few powers as the principal wants.
Caution needs to be taken when choosing an agent, especially in regard to financial matters. Dishonest agents have used POAs as opportunities to steal from unsuspecting seniors. We encourage you and your loved ones to sign a POA.
In fact, it might be you who is chosen to take on the role of attorney-in-fact. Caring.com, an online resource for caregivers, offers the following tips for preparing to become a POA:
- Create a caregiving team—people who can advise you and be the resource you need to make good decisions.
- Consider all ramifications of a decision, not giving in to what others may think or pressure from doctors or professionals. Choose what is best for your family member.
- Do some research on accounting, medical terminology, and counseling.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Know the current state of affairs for the person you will be representing, both financially and medically.
- Establish a cordial relationship with the rest of the family.
Health care directive
A health care directive is also referred to as a medical power of attorney or an advance directive. LegalZoom defines a health care directive as a “document that explains a person’s health care preferences when he or she is unable to make those choice for him or herself.” Some directives may designate a health care agent, a person given the authority to make medical decisions on the principal’s behalf.
A health care directive is not the same as a living will. A living will is limited to situations when the principal is terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It does not apply to any other situations where medical decisions might need to be made. However, a living will can be useful to give some guidance to the health care agent.
WebMD gives these guidelines about choosing, or helping a parent choose, a health care agent:
- Choose someone you trust, who knows you well and who can handle stress and emotional turmoil.
- Consider medical issues and your care options, then take the time to put them in an advance directive and/or discuss your values and preferences with the agent.
- Don’t assume that a child or spouse knows what you want. Talk openly about your wishes.
- It’s not possible to discuss every situation that would arise, so choose someone who knows what is important to you.
- Check with your state about required documents. Make sure you complete everything.
- Tell your family, doctors, and anyone else involved in medical care who your agent is.
We all hope our loved ones remain healthy and capable as long as possible, but the reality is that they will one day become compromised at some level. Be assure that getting your elders to choose now who will make decisions when they cannot is actually the best way to preserve their independence.